Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Baseball Doubles as a Symbol of the Country

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Baseball Doubles as a Symbol of the Country

Article excerpt

July 4 Games and Other Developments Helped Define the Nation. By Craig Muder

Independence Day falls right in the heart of baseball season, and that's only fitting for America's national pastime.

Baseball, it seems, grew up with America.

From its origins as a New York City-area club game in the 1820s to the powerful healing it provided after the Sept. 11 attacks of 2001, the sport has time and again demonstrated its link to patriotism and other all-American values.

Lou Gehrig made history on July 4, 1939

For instance, Lou Gehrig uttered his most famous public speech, his farewell to the game - "Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth" - on the nation's 163rd birthday: July 4, 1939.

Less than two years later, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis - a neurological disease that would one day bear his name - would claim the life of the 37-year-old Iron Horse, who played 2,130 consecutive games for the New York Yankees, a record of endurance that stood until 1995.

The 61,808 fans at Yankee Stadium that day paid tribute to Gehrig, as did his Yankee teammates and friends, thanking him for his dignity and service - two causes our country respects and embraces. Gehrig was forced into immediate retirement because of health reasons - what the self-professed "luckiest man on the face of the earth" called his "tough break." Yet Gehrig ended his farewell (hear it at www.lougehrig.com) by proclaiming that he still had "an awful lot to live for."

People in the stands and across the country saw in him some of the best qualities of themselves: gratefulness and modesty, perseverance and perspective.

A silver cup from Yankee employees and a trophy from his teammates that commemorate his courage and humility reside at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y; the artifacts suggest the impact he made on the sporting conscious of the United States and mark an iconic moment in this country's history - a moment that does not exist but for a game that has been woven into America's fabric.

The game provides fireworks in the sky and for the soul

Gehrig isn't the only baseball player to be associated with American patriotism in general and our nation's birthday in particular. From its earliest days, baseball players have embraced and embodied the pioneer spirit of America playing agame built on hard work and independent thinking, the bedrock on which the United States sits.

And from the start, owners and players felt that connection - especially on the nation's birthday. Hall of Fame pitchers Rube Waddell and Cy Young squared off in a July 4, 1905, matchup that drew a huge crowd in Boston and proved memorable for all sorts of reasons. The contest lasted 20 innings - and so did each pitcher, both going the distance. Waddell drove in the winning run for his Philadelphia squad in the 4-2 victory.

"The fact that it was the Fourth of July kept me going," Waddell said. "I guess the shooting of revolvers, and the fireworks, and the yelling made me pitch better."

A week later. Young wrote, "For my part, I think it was the greatest game of ball I ever took part in," according to Daniel O'Brien as quoted by the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society (http://www.philadelphiaathletics.org/history/ rube vscy. htm).

And in 1983, Yankee pitcher Dave Righetti hurled a no-hitter on July 4. How fitting that near "perfection" (Righetti walked four) occurred on that most American of days for the 41 ,000 fans rooting for the Yankee Doodles in the Bronx.

"If baseball is a text, and I maintain it is, then it's about something," said former Major League Baseball commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti in a famous observation. "It's about stability of values and the worshipping of tradition."

FDR stepped up to the plate during World War Il

Baseball is linked with American values and tradition in ways that are downright presidential: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "Green Light" letter of Jan. …

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